Practical Ecommerce

Use “Human Optimization” for Search Engines

I read with interest this month that Google has filed a patent to allow it to add a human-review element to their search results. This represents the next step in a series of interesting developments that I have watched closely for the past few years. But in order to explain, let me back up.

I think it’s fair to say that since the mid-90s, the Holy Grail of web marketing has been the search-engine No. 1 position. Search engine optimization (SEO) has been the talent in most demand by companies looking to increase leads and sales. One of the reasons is that conversion rates have been accepted as being fairly static (you’ve seen the metrics: 4 percent to 6 percent for lead generation, 1 percent to 2 percent for ecommerce), so increasing sales was all about increasing traffic.

Increasingly, though, companies have been down the SEO route and have found that (for many reasons) it’s not as easy, or effective, as it might appear. Enter me, as a self-professed “observer” of the SEO industry. We’ve seen keyword stuffing, redirecting, cloaking and a plethora of other blackhat techniques. We’ve seen copy writing, link exchanging and a host of other “clean” SEO techniques.

SEO tactics hurt conversion?

One of my “observations” has been that SEO tactics, in general, tend to have a negative effect on human optimization, or “conversion.” Take the lengthy home page as an example—plenty of keyword-rich text is a prerequisite for an effective home page, we are told. But in my conversion experience, less-wordy homepages tend to be more effective. Ditto for keyword stuffing, linking, et al.

My conclusion was that SEO and conversion were two roads diverging. So, I have watched with great interest the recent developments at Google that, perhaps, indicate a shift. (Now, I should mention here that I do not consider myself an SEO expert. I merely watch and take note.)

The bottom line seems to be that “chasing the Google algorithm” is becoming less necessary (and perhaps less effective). The goal of webmasters seeking ranking should, in fact, be the same as webmasters seeking conversion—to build a high-quality, focused, content-rich website.

So here are a few thoughts to help build a conversion site, and perhaps increase rankings, too:

Write interesting and relevant copy

Instead of stuffing text full of keywords, feel free to use interesting and varied text to educate and stimulate your reader. Using synonyms and writing about closely-related issues and topics will capture readers and score points with Google.

Segment information in appropriate ways

Segmenting information on different pages and through effective use of titles and subtitles allow human visitors (and dare I say “reviewers”) to quickly see the relevance and value of our text. It also allows Google’s spiders to see the relevance of your text to specific keyword searches.

Only link when it makes sense

The whole “link exchange” idea has always seemed a little bit silly. I got a request a few months ago to exchange links with a shelving company in my area. I didn’t even bother to reply—what possible point would there be in having a link to a shelving company on the site of a web consulting company? It seems clear that, at some point, the search engines were going to smoke out this technique.

I suspect that no one outside Google really knows how its algorithm works or how it will work in the future. But if Google continues to change its algorithm to provide the “best” results, it seems logical that sites that are more “human optimized” will also move to the top of the search-engine rankings.

Mat Greenfield

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Comment ( 1 )

  1. Legacy User May 1, 2007 Reply

    Matt, I think you are right. As long as Google is indexing the pages, and the site comes up under the proper searches, people seem to find it, and return. The return part is important, and they will not come back, if the site is built for robots and not humans.

    — *James Burns*